Report child marriages: Malaysian minister

KUALA LUMPUR - People must come forward and report cases of underage and forced marriages, Datuk Seri Rohani Abdul Karim has appealed.

The Women, Family and Community Development Minister said this was necessary so that the authorities concerned could act.

"If you know of cases of underage and forced marriages, report them to us. Call 15999, so that we take action," she said, citing the single 24-hour helpline used by Talian Nur and Childline.

Rohani was speaking at yesterday's launch of "Girls' Voices: Speaking Up Against Child Marriage", a photo exhibition by the government of Canada and Girls Not Brides which is a partnership of over 550 civil society organisations in 70 countries committed to ending child marriage.

Three Malaysian organisations are members of Girls Not Brides, namely Protect and Save The Children, Malaysian Child Resource Institute, and Voice of the Children.

The exhibition was launched by Canadian High Commissioner to Malaysia Judith St George.

"Every year, an estimated 15 million girls worldwide are married before their 18th birthday, some as young as eight," said St George.

"That's 28 girls every minute. This is a violation of human rights and hinders development. We also believe that the protection and empowerment of women and girls are essential for peaceful, prosperous and stable societies."

To that end, Canada has invested C$70mil (RM214 million or S$71 million) in programming support to Canadian and civil society partners since October 2013.

The exhibition features the stories of girls from various countries who have found themselves in child, early and forced marriages, and who are standing up for their rights. It also features the people advocating change with them.

In Malaysia, the legal age for marriage is 18 years for boys and 16 for girls.

Rohani said for those younger, consent letters from parents were needed, with approvals from the court and head of government of the state concerned.

"The ministry will continue to promote the full development of the child. Society and parents should be aware of the mental and physical preparedness when there is a request from their child to get married early.

"Awareness of sexual abstinence and a mechanism to delay marriage until a child is fully prepared should be in place," she said.

The exhibition runs until Sunday at Berjaya Times Square (concourse area) here, from 10am to 10pm. The Canadian High ComĀ­mission also plans to take the exhibition to other states.